The biting wind and abrasive cold didn’t stop opposers of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill from protesting outside St. Petersburg City Hall on Mar. 12.
And, ultimately, that was the point.
Allies, activists, and members of the LGBTQ+ community gathered to oppose the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which revokes schools’ permission and ability to teach LBGTQ+ history, speak about LGBTQ+ people, and prohibit discussion with students about sexual orientation, gender identity, and any other topic under the LGBTQ+ umbrella.
To welcome participants to the rally, the hosts sang an original song dedicated to Ron Desantis: “We say gay, free to be gay, we say gay all day,” the tune jingled.
Since the protest focused on safety and education of youth, the protest invited Samuel Vanmiddlesworth, a Pinellas County student, emerged from the crowd wrapped in a pride flag and a black beanie with a rainbow decal, a perfect outfit for the event. Vanmiddlesworth introduced himself to the crowd and said he uses he/they pronouns.
“When I was in 6th grade science class I was able to freely talk about my gender identity with a classmate. Without that freedom, I think I would have had a harder time realizing who I am,” Vanmiddlesworth announced.
The crowd cheered in support.
“It’s also important for us to have role models so we can see that it’s OK to be gay, or bi, or trans or anything in between,” they continued Teachers can make great role models. Especially for these underrepresented groups. They are some of the most easily accessible adults in our lives when our parents aren’t there for us.”
Pinellas County teacher Lee Bryant spoke, joking since he was a teacher, he would quiz everyone’s knowledge with a pre-test. He asked the crowd if it was OK to be LGBTQ+, and the audience met him with uproarious applause.
“What some fail to understand is figuring out who you are is a part of childhood. It should happen in a safe and supporting environment. Sadly, the safe and supporting environment is sometimes not at the home. That is where schools come in. We will provide that safety and support these young people need,” Bryant said.
Bryant continued his speech, sharing anonymous testimonials of students who came out to him.
He concluded with a post-test, asking the same questions: LGBTQ+? The audience responded with enthusiastic “yeses” and strong applause.
The Gabber spoke with a volunteer on congresswoman Michele Rayner’s campaign, Alliyah Edwards.
“We’re now in a time where people do feel more supported. Given there is a lot more hatred, there is more support than ever and I feel like especially for our youth, [they] need us more than ever. It’s just nice to raise awareness about how important they are and how they matter,” Edwards said. “And just because you might not necessarily agree with somebody’s lifestyle, doesn’t change the impact of your life. So just be there and be a good person. It’s not that difficult. Human rights are human rights.”